Casual Games Maker WorldWinner Falls into Facebook’s Orbit

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PopCap and Arcadium Games. The company has long provided its tournament platform to other online communities, such as AOL, MSN, and Electronic Arts’ Pogo—but compared to these sites, the Facebook audience has reached overpowering proportions. “Now you have one Facebook app, Bejeweled Blitz, that has more players than the AOL, MSN, and Pogo versions of Bejeweled combined,” Blacklow says. (The game has a stunning 10 million players on Facebook.) “We have the best monetization model for casual games, and we can be a monetization engine for your content, whether that’s inside Facebook or outside.”

WorldWinner has had its eye on Facebook for a long time, but was waiting for the right moment to invest. “We were the first games company to buy a sponsored group on Facebook,” back in 2006 or so, Blacklow says. “That was completely the wrong model, spending $35,000 a month on a sponsored group—it had really low ROI—but it always felt like Facebook was the right place to be. It’s only in the last nine months or so that people have built up a critical mass on Facebook games, other than Scrabulous, which started the social game craze. Now, when the Zangas and Playdoms and Playfishes have created the critical mass, the timing is perfect. None of them have any intention of getting into cash tournament games, but they all know there is no better way to generate revenue.”

The turn toward Facebook has distracted WorldWinner from one of the big projects that was in the works two years ago, when I first visited. That was an effort to convert most of its Web-based games, which depend on Microsoft’s DirectX animation technology and therefore only work on Windows computers running the Internet Explorer browser, into Flash-based games that would work on any computer, including Macs. That still hasn’t happened at the WorldWinner destination site—if you’re a Mac user, you’re out of luck. But the Flash work turned out to be crucial to the company’s Facebook strategy, since Flash is the only game format that works inside Facebook.

“I was on a game panel the other day with Jeff Anderson of Quick Hit, and he was saying ‘You ignore the social platforms at your own peril,'” Blacklow says. (Indeed, Quick Hit—which we’ve profiled in Xconomy a couple of times—is active on Facebook, where its profile has more than 7,000 fans.) “Even our top distribution partners such as Pogo, as dominant as they have been for the last 10 years, have started to generate fewer registrations for the WorldWinner games. That doesn’t mean the destination site will go away, but the growth is certainly slowing. So you’d better figure out what works on Facebook. Otherwise you could be out of business in five years.”

While Blacklow started out by mentioning mobile phones in the same breath as Facebook, he didn’t talk much about WorldWinner’s strategy in that realm, except to say that the programming interfaces the company has developed to help other publishers turn their Facebook games into cash tournaments would also work for iPhone or iPad games. “We can have a nice eight-figure business just on, but to really scale this business into nine figures, we have got to be able to export that tournament infrastructure to other platforms,” he says. So it wouldn’t be surprising, well before another two years have passed, to see the company making announcements about deals with developers and distributors of mobile games, or launching its own. As Enright said, the models are always evolving.

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Wade Roush is the producer and host of the podcast Soonish and a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @soonishpodcast

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